Ensuring Safety with Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulances, both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft have become a key component of healthcare in many countries and are consequently being increasingly utilized by hospitals and private citizens alike. There is however a distinct lack of structure within the air ambulance services industry, which is causing the safety of many of these programs to be called into question.

Safety Precautions Identified within the Air Ambulance Services Industry

One of the major factors that has experts alarmed regarding the safety of the air ambulance industry is the sharp increase in the number of air ambulances involved in accidents. In 2008 alone over 13 accidents and 29 resulting fatalities were reported. Numerous possible causes for this increase have recently been proposed.

The first and most obvious reason put forward has been the lack of an accredited agency to generally oversee and regulate the air ambulance services industry. In many areas, such as the US, this has caused a blurring of the roles of local, state and federal regulatory bodies. This has consequently brought about a failure to properly control air services in some geographical regions, and over regulation in others.

In most regions however, there are basically no standards regarding important factors such the amount of rest pilots must get, or when pilot should or shouldn’t fly regarding bad weather. This has been pinpointed as a major contending factor in numerous accidents, especially when coupled with the practice of ‘air ambulance shopping’.

Air ambulance shopping is basically the tendency of hospitals in some areas to call one air ambulance service after another in cases of bad weather, or other dangerous conditions until they find a pilot, or company that is willing to take the job. As there is no standing regulation, pilots may feel forced to fly, due to the emergency nature of the call. Some firms may also feel that financially they must accept all requests from hospitals.

Ensuring Safety within the Air Medical Services Industry

It is stated that many of the previously discussed problems exist primarily due to the fact that the air ambulance industry has grown too quickly. The various governing and inspection bodies simply can’t keep up. There are estimations in the US that the number of helicopters now being used as air ambulances is 50 percent higher than in 2000. The number of Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) inspectors in comparison has decreased, with financial stresses being cited as the reason for this.

On the upside, there is slow movement toward change however; this being said many recent accidents including some of the 13 from 2008 were due previously recognized factors. Many of the changes that have actually been made in the industry are also ‘voluntary’, as a voluntary change can be ‘quickly put into effect’. Numerous companies unfortunately, choose not to partake in such uncontrolled undertakings.

A recent report from the FAA has proposed changes such as pilot training, further defining air ambulance policies to make them more consistent with those for small airlines, and making flight weather limitations stricter. None of these changes however have any attached deadline or schedule involved. In short, it is obvious that changes to the air ambulance services industry are vitally important. It is up to the large regulatory agencies in various different regions however to make sure that proposed changes come into effect and are enforced.